SINGAPORE: When 45-year-old Anita Kapoor set out to spend two weeks living in a nursing home like one of its elderly residents, she had expected “a fairly bleak environment without much energy”.
“But I didn’t prepare myself for how bad that actually was,” admitted the television host, who was making a social documentary. “I think after two or three days, I just hit a wall - I was really exhausted by the environment.”
Safe but soulless, is how a study commissioned by the Lien Foundation and Khoo Chwee Neo Foundation and released last month described nursing homes in Singapore. Ms Kapoor’s stay in a six-bed ward offered her a first-hand - and emotionally draining - experience of what that meant.
“There is no privacy, there’s nowhere to hang your clothes, there’s nowhere to put your pictures, there’s nowhere to be you,” she told weekly current affairs programme Talking Point.(Watch the episode on nursing homes here)
“The space just didn’t seem to have any life in it … it feels like your life is on hold.”
During her two-week stay, she immersed herself in the life of a typical resident and kept a video diary, which sometimes was recorded in tears. While she described the nursing staff as “very cheerful and joyful”, she found the life regimented, from the moment residents were woken up for morning showers.
She spoke poignantly of residents whose family members never came to visit - and what this reflects of the family and the wider community today.
WATCH: Anita’s experience in a nursing home
“I think the serious lack of choice … it’s like being in a hospital for the rest of your life,” she said.
The question of elder care options is an important one with Singapore set to be a superaged society by 2030 - 960,000 people will be 65 and older, more than double the current number.
While Singapore has ramped up the building of nursing homes, the Talking Point episode discusses the problems of a manpower shortage (up to 85 per cent of staff are foreigners).
Ms Radha Basu, the author of 'Safe but Soulless – Nursing Homes Need a New Narrative', said: “I have come across homes at night where one staff member has to look after 20 to 32 residents.”
But others in Singapore are exploring new alternative models of care, such as assisted living at the St Bernadette Lifestyle Village in Bukit Timah.
WATCH: The St Bernadette alternative
Individual rooms come with attached bathrooms and certified 24/7 medical concierge. The residents are generally independent but may need supervision. Said co-founder Dr Belinda Wee: “The difference is the level of autonomy that they have while being in a safe environment.”
While a stay costs S$3,600 a month, Dr Wee thinks the model could be adapted to more affordable HDB living arrangements, where seniors share a flat and medical concierge service.
For more, watch the full Talking Point episode, Inside Nursing Homes, here on Toggle. New episodes air every Thursday on Mediacorp Channel 5.